“Do It Scared”: Meet Morgan Mullins, PG, Recipient of Zweig Group’s 2024 Rising Stars Award

Jun 12, 2024

Q&A: Explore the intersection of geology and landfill management with Zweig Group’s 2024 Rising Stars Award Winner, Morgan Mullins, PG.

Q: Can you share a memorable experience from your time at ҹ where you felt proud of the impact you made on environmental stewardship in Georgia?

The majority of my five and a half years at ҹ have been spent working on our landfills team, supporting anywhere from 10 to 13 different counties across Georgia. Most of these are small rural counties with limited budgets and manpower, facing a complex set of solid waste regulations. They look to me and my team to help them navigate these often confusing regulations in a way that keeps them in compliance, operational, and profitable.

In 2018, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GAEPD) rolled out a program requiring all active landfills to update their plans. One of our clients, Jefferson County, had significant updates to their plan set while also opening a new section of their landfill. Bob Whitfield, our compliance expert, handled the opening of the Section 3 landfill masterfully, with support from engineering staff. My environmental team managed the environmental monitoring well expansion, installing around 22-23 groundwater and methane wells. This was an ‘all hands on deck’ situation and the success of this project was due to my team’s dedication to getting the job done right.

This project required meticulous coordination between the county, state, and our team to balance regulatory deadlines, county budgets, and our staffing schedules. We pulled it off successfully despite being in the middle of the 2020-2021 supply chain disruptions. Seeing the wells operational and the landfill running smoothly was incredibly rewarding.

Q: How do you approach balancing the various demands of annual environmental monitoring, on-call engineering services, and educating site operators on solid waste management laws?

It’s all about the team. I couldn’t do this alone. Randy Romero, my right hand man in the landfills, manages the field schedule and ensures the fieldwork gets done. He’s excellent at keeping track of our deadlines for annual sampling and communicating with our clients. Bob Whitfield handles most of our on-call engineering tasks, explaining complex technical pursuits in an understandable way to both our clients and me.

We take it one schedule change at a time, one phone call at a time. Thankfully, our schedule has been consistent year-to-year, which helps maintain a good workflow. Having dedicated and skilled people working alongside me is what makes or breaks our efforts.

Q: Could you elaborate on the challenges you faced during the Phase 2 expansion of the Oglethorpe County C&D Landfill, and how you overcame them to secure state approval for the project?

The biggest challenge was the rapid filling of the landfill. We were racing against the clock to expand the landfill horizontally and vertically before it reached maximum capacity. This type of landfill is a significant revenue source for our clients in small counties, so timing was critical.

Clear communication with our client and the state regulators was crucial. Regular check-ins and being proactive about addressing concerns that our regulators had helped us stay on track. This consistent dialogue ensured we met deadlines and secured the necessary approvals.

Q: How did your involvement with Engineers Without Borders in constructing a bridge in Sierra Leone influence your perspective on the intersection of geology and community development?

I was involved with the Engineers Without Borders project for almost three years through the DC chapter. We worked with a village in southern Sierra Leone to construct a bridge over a creek that seasonally isolated half of the village during the rainy season. This had severe implications for access to schools, jobs, and healthcare, especially during the Ebola outbreak in 2015-16.

My contribution involved analyzing soils data and working with bridge engineers to determine the best construction approach. The experience underscored the importance of applying technical knowledge to solve real-world problems, directly impacting community health and well-being.

It was incredibly fulfilling to see how our efforts could make such a significant difference.

Q: As the Vice President of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists, you played a significant role in organizing a successful conference. How do you see your leadership within professional organizations contributing to the wider geology community?

One of my favorite aspects of the conference was the student panel. We invited students that were attending the conference to ask questions about transitioning from the classroom to the workplace. It was rewarding to help them understand how to format resumes, stay calm in interviews, and translate their academic skills into practical applications.

This interaction was incredibly satisfying because I remember being in their shoes — excited but anxious about entering the professional world. Helping the next generation of geologists, especially women geologists, feel more confident about their future is something I’m passionate about. I hope to see some of them apply for jobs at ҹ or see them again at future conferences.

A piece of advice I give to new grads is to ‘do it scared.’ I don’t love the phrase ‘fake it until you make it’, we don’t need to ‘fake’ anything. I know I can do my job well and these students know that they are deserving of the jobs they are interviewing for, but we all get nervous before big meetings. So, I tell them to do it scared. It’s worked for me.

Q: How do you maintain effective communication and collaboration across different stakeholders to ensure project continuity and success?

Consistency and adaptation are key. I don’t have a singular, major career-defining project; rather, my success comes from consistently communicating with clients, following up, and maintaining a regular presence on-site. This consistency extends to our field schedules, ensuring a balanced workload and good work-life balance for the team. Adaptation is important in my role as a lot of the time, field work does not go as planned. We adapt our plans and our approach to fit changing conditions, then communicate with our clients to ensure they are included and informed at each stage of a project.

My strength lies in the quality and frequency of communications, always asking, ‘How can we get this done?’

Q: Looking ahead, what are some of your aspirations and goals within the field of geology? Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives that you are particularly excited about?

In the last year and a half, I’ve shifted from a technical role to more of a project manager role, boosting my confidence and leadership skills. Moving forward, I want to expand the types of projects we work on, always searching for new clients and more challenging work.

I’m particularly excited about revitalization projects that involve transforming vacant lots into community spaces. For example, we’re currently completing the environmental reporting on a project to turn a gravel lot on Main Street into a mixed-use commercial and residential area. These projects have a direct positive impact on communities, making them more vibrant and healthier.

Q: Can you share a bit about your background and what initially drew you to the field of geology?

Growing up near Augusta, GA I loved spending time outdoors and was fascinated by nature. We spent a lot of time outside as a family, whether that was going to the local lake or playing in our backyard. My dad is a civil engineer, and he often took [my siblings and me] to his job sites, sparking my initial interest in engineering. However, as I progressed through high school and college, I realized I had a stronger inclination toward science over math. I have been driven by a lifelong love of science, a desire to understand how the natural world around us formed, and understanding what we can do to ensure the beautiful places around us stay beautiful.

I took an introductory geology class my sophomore year of college and was immediately hooked. I continued my studies at Georgia State and later at Clemson, focusing on groundwater quality and contamination cleanup methods. My passion for geology led me to ҹ, where I’ve learned about the importance of landfills and their role in protecting the environment.

Q: Talk to me about the values that drive your interactions with your colleagues, clients, and community initiatives.

I lead with empathy, kindness, and excellence to deliver a consistent, high-quality product to our clients. I deliver results by building relationships because our client’s experience with ҹ is the most important deliverable to me. This can look like volunteering with my coworkers to teach young girls about engineering, educating clients about ways to balance environmental cleanup initiatives and budgets, or taking time to ask about a client’s kid who recently graduated.

Environmental stewardship is also a core value for me. My love for the outdoors and deep appreciation for nature drive everything I do. In my professional life, this translates to doing my best to protect our environment and create sustainable solutions for waste management. It’s about balancing the needs of our clients with the imperative to safeguard our natural world for everyone’s benefit.

Morgan Mullins, PG

Morgan manages a portfolio of landfill contracts, overseeing annual environmental monitoring, engineering services, and operational compliance. She also conducts environmental site assessments for clients ranging from real estate entities to government organizations focused on environmental cleanup. She holds a BS in Geology from Georgia State University and an MS in Hydrogeology from Clemson University. Morgan serves as Vice President of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists and was actively involved with Engineers without Borders.

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